Behavioral Healthcare Innovation With Nicki Tessler Of UHS

To Nicki-Headshot-214x300 Behavioral Healthcare Innovation with Nicki Tessler of UHS day’s guest Nicki Tessler (Psy.D, MBA) is the Divisional Vice President for Behavioral Health at Universal Health Services (UHS) where she provides senior-level leadership for multiple hospitals across multiple stages for UHS. She joins us to talk about innovation in the behavioral health space and how UHS is leading the way with their “Innovation Hub” that supports behavioral health entrepreneurship. Nicki is an extremely accomplished, and experienced Behavioral Health Executive with an impressive 20-year career in the space that began in Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital, leading to Hospital Corporation of America and now Universal Health Services. At UHS, Nicki has led the charge on innovation within the Behavioral Health Division by developing the “Innovation Hub” internally which promotes entrepreneurship in order to drive growth within the UHS business through innovation, speed, and urgency. Nicki has stellar academic credentials which include her Psy.D. in Psychology from the University of Denver; Executive M.B.A. in Health Sector Management & Policy from the University of Miami; and M.A. in Psychology from Pepperdine University. She’s also earned designations as a Licensed Psychologist and Six Sigma Champion.


  1. Nicki gave us an overview of UHS with some facts about the business including:
  2. Founded in 1979, now a Fortune 500 (ranked 281)
  3. 2019 Revenue $11.4 billion
  4. 90,000 employees
  5. Headquarters: King of Prussia, PA
  6. 26 acute care hospitals
  7. 328 behavioral health hospitals
  8. 42 outpatient facilities
  9. Operates in 37 states, DC, Puerto Rico, and the United Kingdom
  10. In 2019, they served 3.5mm patients across acute and behavioral health
  11. How does UHS think about innovation in the behavioral space? UHS realizes a need for innovation in the behavioral space and is in a very unique position because of the data, experience, knowledge, and exposure they have as one of the largest operators of inpatient psychiatrics facilities in the world. UHS is focused on fostering innovation in the space and has built and “Innovation Hub” to encourage entrepreneurs to build in the space, to interact with UHS and approach UHS about partnership.
  12. How do we innovate in BH without hurting people, but still going fast? Nicki talks about how a methodical systematic approach is needed that is sensitive to the fragile nature of healthcare. At UHS, they look at innovation in a very systematic way which Nicki highlights in our conversation. UHS focuses on innovations that can drive major shifts in one of these areas:
  13. Business model shifts
  14. Platform shifts
  15. Customer experience shifts
  16. What is the “Innovation Hub”? In August they launched the Innovation Hub, which is an innovation ecosystem where UHS supports a culture of innovation balanced with discipline to develop test and grow new solutions outside of the traditional internal UHS processes. The hub has 3 primary goals which include operating within the behavioral health division, growing the business, and promoting entrepreneurship while attracting talent.
  17. How does it work? Entrepreneurs approach UHS and present an idea for innovation. They are paired with a UHS facility to run a 90 day pilot / beta. At the end of the pilot, outcomes are assessed and if the metrics are good, then UHS begins to scale the solution across more locations. Success is determined by a proprietary internal ROI calculator.
  18. What makes it through the filter into the program? Nicki explains the three areas of innovation that are most exciting to the team at UHS. These are:
  19. Configuration – This is where focusing on the innermost working of the business systems, networks, processes, technologies, channels, brands can improve the business.
  20. Offerings – Core services. How do services connect or bundle with UHS’ current offerings? How can we improve interoperability, and connection between offerings?
  21. Experiences – This is anything touching the customer facing elements of the behavioral health world. This can include service innovations and often includes ways to make the increasingly impersonal electronic and remote service offices feel more personal and drive better engagement. Anything that drives a compelling engagement for the patient that leads to more patient engagement would fall into this area.
  22. What would you build if you could build anything to help humans with mental health? Nicki talks about how her dream solution would be an “Imperfection Lab” where people are encouraged and allowed to feel vulnerable and where imperfections could be celebrated.
  23. How does an entrepreneur get in touch with UHS? Reach out to Nicki and brainstorm what a pilot could look like internally.